Some people are saying that nooma is "a revolutionary product that is changing the way people experience spirituality" 1. Others say it's a tool of Satan, subtly luring people from the truth. So what is nooma and how should we respond?
nooma is a series of DVD's produced by Rob Bell from the USA that are 15 minute discussion starters on a number of different topics. I've seen two of them – Rain (responding to hardship and suffering) and Flame (about love).
Flame is about the three different words for love in Hebrew that are used in Song of Songs – companionship, commitment and sex. Rob Bell describes these three loves as three flames and builds to his major point that the flames were meant to burn together, to create 'the big flame'. Sex was made to be enjoyed together with companionship and commitment. The finale sees Bell light the mother of all bonfires and the point is rammed home: don't miss out on the big flame.
These are pieces of absolutely engaging visual communication. They are well scripted, carefully directed and expertly produced. They're perhaps a vast improvement on many a youth group talk – planned on the run, built around the latest funny story, with a stray Bible verse conscripted into service.
However, both are exegetically weak and there are a number of big theological questions that are raised that are never fully addressed. But then, these are billed as 'discussion starters' not a main course or a training program in exegetical method. Hopefully the youth minister who can use a DVD player is also wise enough to discuss sexuality and suffering.
Some people will choose to reject nooma entirely - bad exegesis, bad theology, and too much money spent on frivolous things such as production quality! Others will use it cautiously, picking and choosing which bits to run with – it's a good quality resource, we might as well use what's available (and as an added bonus it will really annoy all those people who think it's from the devil!). I'm sure that some will decide to produce a theologically sound evangelical version of the concept, mimic the packaging, choose a similar but slightly daggier name, and produce a product that wins on theology and Bible but comes a sad second in production quality and narrative depth.
But in worrying about all these sorts of responses, are we going to end up neglecting the great strength of gospel ministry? Will we forget the number one basic element of sharing Jesus with young people?
Just talk to them!
Spend time face to face; share with them the stories of God, the stories of love, and suffering; ask questions about their lives, their loves, their sadness; share with them about you, your life and loves, what you understand and don't understand from the Scriptures.
It's fine to use all manner of tools and technologies to help people engage with one another as together we engage with the Lord. But without the desire and intention and skills for personal connections, a hip video and a big video screen will struggle to advance the kingdom of God.
Sharing your life with others as the life of Jesus works in you: that's the technology of choice for the King who calls people to himself.
Graham Stanton heads Youthworks College in Sydney where he teaches in Theology, Youth Ministry and popular culture. He enjoys watching movies and being able to call it work.